This non-calorie sweetener is gaining popularity. Learn more about it, along with the benefits and cons.
Credit: Photo: Carl99 / Getty

Grown in Southeast Asia and originally eaten by Buddhist monks (hence the name), monk fruit is a small green gourd that is comparable to a melon. While it's unlikely that you've ever seen fresh monk fruit at the grocery store, its popularity as a sweetener has skyrocketed in the last few years.

Right next to the stevia and Splenda, you'll find monk fruit as the newest addition to health food store's non-calorie sweetener section. Created by extracting the fruit and combining with other ingredients, like dextrose, to mellow the sweetness, the powdery product resembles coarsely ground sugar. While it's most commonly seen in the aforementioned granule form, monk fruit is also available as powdered and liquid products too. 

Around 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, a little goes a long way with monk fruit. It has no calories, carbohydrates, fat, or sodium. It won't spike your blood sugar and is low-glycemic. It's heat stable, meaning you can cook and bake with it, but the slightly fruity taste (and potential after-taste) may be off putting to some consumers. 

Monk fruit's natural growing climate means it has to travel far before ever reaching your grocery cart, making a case for ecological concerns when it comes to the sweet fruit. Another potential issue is that monk fruit's processing, while free of harsh chemicals, can result in it being a highly processed food. 

Bottom line: If you like the taste, monk fruit is potentially a good choice as a no-calorie sweetener. It may be highly processed and mixed with other ingredients though, so always read labels before buying. We at Cooking Light prefer just cutting down on sugar itself or looking towards unrefined natural sources to satisfy our sweet tooth.